**Epilepsy/flashing image warning: there's a flashing gif towards the end of this chapter.**
The last Friday class had wound down and Robert stretched in his seat as other students began to gather their things and make for the doors as quickly as they could. He had been up late in the library working with Catrina to catch her up to speed for one of her classes.
He wasn't good with science nor math, but literature he could do - and it was literature she struggled with the most. They made a good team that way.
They were just starting a new trimester, so she didn't have too much to catch up on, yet it was still overwhelming. The Academy was set up with roughly three month intervals of classes with breaks in-between. Robert and Catrina had been home schooled, so the adjustment hadn't be hard for either of them go to continuously year-round, however Sam and Sarah still complained that it was a switch from their old schools back in Bridgeport, which would be close to letting out for a several month "summer break" soon.
The chair next to him creaked with a flash of orange and green in his peripheral vision and he resisted grinning. "This was your last class, riiiight?" Catrina elongated the last word expectantly.
Robert smirked as he stretched again in his chair, "peut-être."
Catrina glowered at him and gave him a soft shove. "Rob! You promised you'd take me into town today!"
Robert pushed back into her hand that shoved him, ready to call her bluff. "Pardon? Je ne parle pas Anglais-" It was hard to keep up the facade and his grin easily gave him away. She hated when she couldn't understand what he was saying and there was something about him that liked to see her riled up. Her icy eyes weakened at his grin, which only made him start to laugh.
Catrina finally cracked and smiled herself before looking away, her cheeks flushing red like her hair. "You're impossible, Egan."
He beamed at his victory. "Tu sais que tu m'aimes."
She took the chance to straighten in her chair, tossing her hair back slightly with newfound confidence. "Why yes, I am beautiful, thank you."
He chuckled, but had no other response. "Oui."
Catrina's eyes doubled in size, she knew that one. If he thought her face was red before, it flushed much deeper this time and he realized he was staring.
Just as he moved to look back at the table he was suddenly grabbed from behind as an arm locked around his neck causing him to jump. "Sacrebleu!"
Sam gripped him with a grin and snorted. "Hello to you too! There's music at the Cabonet and you're going with me, you can snatch the piano and I'll bring Maria and-"
"Hey!" Catrina snapped, her hands clenched into fists. "Robert is taking me into town today!"
"Ye--no." Sam argued back, his arm still choking Robert's neck..
"AIR!" Robert exaggerated with a laugh as he hit at Sam's arms.
Sam smirked, "nah, you don't need that! You'll be fine. Now let's get going!" He started to tug backwards and Robert flailed as his seat tipped.
Catrina had reached over and gripped his arm, stabilizing him as she did so. "He's going with me! Right, Robert?"
"I don't know, let him pick. It's his afternoon." Sam's voice was colder, but his arm loosened slightly from around Robert's neck.
Robert took in a breath yet as he opened his mouth he was cut off.
"Hey you heathens, we're going shopping, come on!" Stefan had called to them, his arm around Hesper as the stood in the doorway.
Catrina perked up in her seat. "Ooh, I like shopping!"
"I was going to go to the Cabonet..." Sam whined, looking back at Stefan.
"It's on the same strip, do you honestly think I'd not want to be there when you tore the place down with Rob?" Stefan smirked. "So come on, let's go!"
Robert slumped hard onto the desk as he was suddenly released from both sides, after catching his breath he was able to laugh, "yea, just let me grab Mr. Heartbroken upstairs."
"Again?" Hesper poked around Stefan's arm with wide eyes. "I didn't even know they'd gotten back together after the last time."
"You guys should really do something about it, you're his friends!" Catrina looked skeptically between Robert, Sam, and Stefan. "This has to stop!"
Sam made a face and shrugged. "You think we haven't tried?"
"We've done everything, we've talked to him, we've sympathized, we've tried to get him angry about it-" Robert started.
"-We've dragged him out, we've tried to get him to meet new people, hell Rob's even started writing his mother-" Stefan added.
"-We're at the end of our ropes, all that's left to do is just truck him around wherever we go and remind him to bathe every now and then." Sam finished.
Stefan and Robert both snorted a laugh and Robert stood up from his seat. "I'm off to get him, then."
The city center had been bustling with people on the bright Friday afternoon. A festival was being set up in the main hub of Aadasian's heart, though it wouldn't start until the next day.
It reminded Robert of home in Dragon Valley and all of the festivals that took place there. The one incoming this week was reminiscent of the Valley's Flower Fest which happened every year in spring and was taken very seriously in all towns and villages.
Due to most places being closed down for whatever impending festival they were celebrating, the group didn't stay out very long.
Stefan dawned a charm that made him look human and Sam got plenty of time to speak with the musicians and recruiters at the Cabonet. The owner had naturally gotten used to underage kids sneaking in for the music - or maybe he just didn't mind their group. Granted, they wouldn't be underage for long, as 17 was the age of legalities here.
It was 15 in the Valley, not that Robert ever partook in anything unseemly. Things were a little too... muted when he turned 15. Checking out his new freedoms were not priorities in his mind.
Catrina had brought him some wine, mostly with the excuse to drink with him, despite being underage, but they hadn't done much else.
It had to be going on later afternoon and yet the sun was still fairly high in the sky - a part of the warming weather that Robert enjoyed the most. Despite this, there was something hanging in the air that Robert couldn't place - a general unease. It was almost like an ominous whisper on the wind that kept him distracted.
No one else seemed to notice it, though, not even Jacob, who had perked up significantly in the sunlight and fresh air of the afternoon.
Other students were outside enjoying the day as the group made their way up the familiar walkway. They just made it past the middle statue when Stefan seemed to stiffen, and Robert exchanged a look with him.
"Is everything ok, Stefan?" Hesper asked him gently as she stopped with him.
Stefan seemed miles away in his head as he processed whatever it was he picked up. "It's... wait! It can't be..."
Robert bit his cheeks as the rest of the group turned to look at them. "Something isn't right."
Stefan looked towards the front door and the group picked up pace towards it.
The door came open and in the front lobby was Professor Luken.
He stood, reaching an arm out to an elegant woman with a younger girl hidden carefully behind her.
All three of them turned their gazes at the newly opened door and the group of students who came in.
Robert opened his mouth to ask Professor Luken what was going on, and why all of their faces seemed so grim when Stefan spoke. "Mom? Em? What's going on?"
As if on cue, the younger girl bolted from behind the woman, Stefan's mother, and crushed herself into Stefan's embrace. That had to be his younger sister Emelia. Robert hadn't met them, but he'd heard enough about Stefan's family as they'd become closer friends.
"Ah, there you are, Stefan." Professor Luken straightened himself and nodded. "I was about to go looking for you."
"Stefan... There... has been a problem." Mrs. McNeel was not expecting to speak to an entire group of students, or perhaps something had spooked her prior to arriving. Robert couldn't tell, but there was a lot being left unsaid and he wanted to know what. Stefan's father wasn't here, maybe it had something to do with that? Robert began examining the situation and everyone involved when he caught a glance of Professor Luken's gaze on him. His face was strangely unreadable, but it wasn't a bad thing. It was almost like he were watching for Robert's reactions, but that'd be ridiculous.
"What kind of problem?" Stefan's voice had grown darker.
Mrs. McNeel spared a slight glance at Professor Luken, who had immediately spoken. "Why don't you come back to my office. There's been an incident."
Stefan seemed to pale, but he nodded. He spared a glance down at his younger sister and slowly began to try and pry her arms off of him. "Em, why don't you stay with Sam and Hesper for a bit, ok?"
Emelia's eyes widened as she finally looked up, ready to protest, but Hesper had already draped an arm around her shoulders. "Let me show you my room! Remember how I told you I'd show you that crystal I have the next time I saw you? Let's go see it!"
Emelia looked at them uncertainly before finally letting go of Stefan and latching onto Sam with a similar hug that nearly knocked Sam over with a grunt.
"Yeah, let's go with Hesper, Em. Sarah's upstairs too, probably. We'll all hang out! It'll be fun." Sam's voice wasn't as carefree as it usually was - he knew something was up too, and Jacob was looking lost in the corner as to what was even going on.
Catrina nodded, and Robert realized then that she was holding onto his arm, "yeah, let's all just head on upstairs."
When had that happened? He hadn't even thought about it. Everyone was growing spooked but Robert was too busy trying to figure out why. Why was it the magic seemed uneasy today. Where was the source? Stefan had already gone up the stairs with his mother and Professor Luken; Robert had watched them go as Sarah called over to them from a distance.
Everyone was chattering, yet Robert was still connecting pieces.
Too many pieces were still missing. Why? Who? Where?
Where was Stefan's father? Why was Emelia so shaken? If he could just use a little bit of his magic he might be able to-
Catrina tugged on his arm before looking at him expectantly. "Robert," she whispered as they'd fallen behind the others who already made for the stairs. "They were attacked."
Had he been out that long that he missed that part of the conversation? "What? Did I miss that?"
Catrina's brow furrowed. "No, just my best guess based off how jumpy they are and the professor's use of 'incident.' What do you think happened?"
He had no idea. If they were attacked why would they come here? They're one of the wealthiest families. It can't be that simple. They rounded the stairs and prepared to go up another flight when Robert stopped, the sound of voices catching his ear and he looked towards the office.
"I... I'm going to go... talk to Professor Clemence. Maybe she knows something." Robert lied.
"I can come with you-" Catrina started, yet Robert was already releasing her grip from his arm.
"No, I should probably go alone. I'll let you know what I find out." Robert attempted to lie again.
Catrina made a face, clearly not buying it, yet she didn't fight it and she started to climb the stairs again. "Tell me later, Egan."
"I will." He meant that seriously. He couldn't take her with, that'd be too much he'd need to worry about. That and he wasn't completely confident in his ability to cast any spell he needed to without mistake. That was the worrying part.
He found Professor Clemence's room empty and took the liberty of snatching one of the books off the table before heading back into the hallway. He'd need to look busy in case someone passed by.
All that was left was to find a spell that would let him hear into that office...
Robert kneeled down, placing the book on the floor in front of him and he willed with all his might that he didn't accidentally damage this book and have to explain why to Professor Clemence later. He held his hands out and began to manipulate the magic in the air, just like Professor Luken had taught him.
He needed a way to hear - maybe even to see into that room. Professor Luken had taught him how to make a recorder like the one he used on the first time they'd had a conversation alone. That wouldn't work for this situation, but maybe if he modified it?
Carefully he split the orb he'd created into two - the bright light and a shadowy phantom of it. Separating the two he carefully leaned to whisper into the near-invisible one. "Testing, hello?"
The sound whispered through the white orb back at him and he was grinning in victory. It wasn't an image, but it would do.
Robert settled himself closer to the wall, shifting the spells between his hands. The brighter half of the spell he created rested with him while he carefully navigating the other half towards the office with his left hand.
Down the hall.
Under the doorway-
"What did he want? We've got nothing to do with the gods!" Stefan's voice suddenly came from the orb Robert held and Robert became aware of the way sound was being projected. He should've considered this, but thankfully the hallway was empty. He gripped the orb loosely before bringing it to his ear and pressing it there until it vanished completely into his head, along with the sound.
"Hold on now, let's start from the beginning to make sure we have all the information-" Professor Luken's voice echoed into his head - the feeling almost made him dizzy.
It took a moment for the magic to settle in and he finally stopped feeling woozy. Even better was the sound seemed to only be heard in his head.
Was that stupid and dangerous? Probably, but curiosity killed the cat and satisfaction brought it back.
"So you were approached by one of the God of Night's court, Mrs. McNeel?"
God of the Night... God of the Night... Robert shifted through the information in his head: Lord Malice, highest known Vampire and head of the Vampiric Courts. Thankfully Professor Luken had him studying the gods since Robert expressed interest in entering the Knowledge Circles after he graduated. It was a lot to remember, but it was already paying off.
"Approached? Invaded more like, claiming we committed some heinous crime when we didn't! We weren't even in town on the day all those people were attacked!" Mrs. McNeel was pacing the floor, Robert could hear her footsteps clicking on the wood. "Those monsters snatched Emelia right out of her bed... I could kill them for that! They claim to be vampires but act like they have no self-control!"
"They didn't bite her, did they?" Stefan's anger was palpable.
"Of course not, but I know a threat when I see one, and they ensured me it was both a threat and a warning. They said that the head of the McNeel household must appear in court in one week's time to contest charges of a crime or we would all be..." Mrs. McNeel took a long, hesitant pause. "...cleansed."
"How bad was the attack they're accusing us of? Surely they know we couldn't have done it. I've not been home since break and you were out of town with Em..."
"It was... pretty bad. There were at least a dozen casualties... a few big names, even."
"So they want dad to show up to court in a week?"
Robert frowned, why would they have come all this way unless...
Professor Luken cleared his throat. "Stefan... in the Vampiric Courts the head of household would be the oldest, male vampire."
There was a long silence.
Robert's eyes went wide. Stefan? Go to court?
"I've been trying to convince them to let me plead our case-" Mrs. McNeel tried to interject.
"Women are not seen as holding positions of power in the Vampiric Circles. They wouldn't even let your mother in, let alone allow her to plead your case."
"There's got to be some other way... Stefan is too young for this! They just need to accept that I'm the oldest vampire in the house-"
"They won't. I'm afraid there's not another option here."
"Is this truly the only option we have?"
"These aren't some thugs. This is a god. We don't have a choice. We either cooperate or we die, mom."
"You're not without options within going, but you do have to negotiate with him. I know some people, I can pull some strings. Stefan will not need to go in to court alone, Mrs. McNeel, but he will have to go, and you will not be permitted to go with him."
"It's ok... I... I can do it. We're innocent - it shouldn't be hard to fight, should it?"
The silence that followed was nearly deafening, and Robert had slunk back. He hadn't even tried to pretend to read.
"I'm going to need to organize some things, in the meantime don't talk to anyone from the Vampiric Courts, do you understand? Not a word. I have a few routes I need to explore for this and some favors to pull. Mrs. McNeel I must encourage you to stay in the area. I can easily arrange a place-"
"We've already gotten that sorted, my lord, thank you."
"Then go ahead and rest there tonight. Stefan please feel free to stay with your family if you wish. I assure you that you are all safe here."
Robert spared a glance out the window. All of France was protected by the Lord Aadish. That should be enough to keep other gods away from imposing themselves.
How it all worked still went over Robert's head. That's what he was supposed to be studying up on, instead of eavesdropping.
Speaking of which, had his spell burned out? He tapped the side of his head yet he couldn't feel the magic coursing the spell through him, instead it was being replaced with a throbbing headache. He sighed and slowly brought himself standing to return the book he'd hijacked back to the classroom.
He hadn't needed it after all.
Robert could hear the sounds of Stefan and his mother leaving in the hallway just as he closed the door behind himself.
Good to know he could cast that spell in a pinch if he needed to, but he rubbed his temple as he swore he wouldn't ever try embedding it straight into his head again.
"Did you hear everything you wanted to hear?"
It was both behind him and blaring loudly in his head all at once. He gripped his own ears, trying to stop himself from doubling over. He turned swiftly to Professor Luken giving him an amused stare.
Suddenly Luken jumped off from the table and approached Robert, inspecting him carefully. "Did you embed half of that into your head?" He laughed with a shake of his own head. "And here I thought I taught you safety first! You've probably got a wicked headache, don't you? Call off your spell before you make it any worse."
Robert's eyes widened. "Uh... how?"
Luken carefully held Robert's head, "here, I'll get it."
It was like water surged through his head and Robert struggled to stay on his feet. Professor Luken kept him supported until the rush passed. "Sacrebleu..." Robert murmured the phrase for the second time that day with a groan, bringing a hand to his head.
The professor gave him a knowing glance. "Now care to tell me what possible logic told you that it would be a good idea to take a spell made of dangerous, wild magic... and shove it into the cavity that holds your brain?"
Robert smiled weakly and shrugged. "It was too loud, I would've gotten caught."
Professor Luken pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head as he laughed. "I still can't believe you used that recording spell to make that. Did you learn that from somewhere?"
Robert shook his head. "Just the one you showed me how to make. I figure if I split it there would be a way I could manipulate it into doing what I needed."
This kept making the professor laugh, "ingenious... purely ingenious... yet utterly stupid." He patted Robert's shoulder and sighed. "I'm deeply proud of you, but I also have to instill the fear of the Essence into you to never be so stupid with your cranium again, d'accord?"
Robert's eyes widened. "You speak French?"
"Oui, bien sur." He smirked back. "I speak many languages, but I imagine after all you've heard you probably have some questions. I've got a lot to take care of-"
"I can come with you. You can walk and talk - it's better that way, right?" Robert nodded as he watched the professor flick his wrist, pulling a portal open.
For once the professor seemed reluctant. "I admire your enthusiasm, Robert, I really do but-"
"Please? I want to help!" Robert stepped forward, trying whatever he could to keep himself between the professor and the portal out of the room. "Please professor..."
Professor Luken's face seemed different than usual, but it only made Robert more steeled into his position. Finally after a long moment he sighed and nodded. "I suppose we were due for a long talk anyways. Let's head off."
Robert spun around to face the portal and entered it alongside Professor Luken. It was finally time for him to get a taste of the politics within the Circles.
He'd do whatever it took to take care of his friends. He didn't have much left in the world, but the few things he did he wanted to keep that way, no matter what it took.
~ Next Chapter ~
"peut-être" - "maybe"
"Pardon? Je ne parle pas Anglais-" - "Excuse me/Sorry? I don't speak English-"
"Tu sais que tu m'aimes." - "You know that you love me."
"Oui." - "Yes."
"Sacrebleu!" - Literally: "Sacred blue!" Often it's a shout used to express surprise, similar to the English "Oh gosh!/Oh God!/Oh Goodness!"
"D'accord?" - "Ok/Agreed?"
"Oui, bien sur" - "Yes, of course."